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Is there any difference between "wanted" vs "wanted to" for such situation?

  • A: I'm not going to eat a lot this weekend!
  • B: Couldn't do it even if you wanted to, I bet!

  • A: I'm not going to eat a lot this weekend!
  • B: Couldn't do it even if you wanted, I bet!

I feel the first one sounds more natural, talking as an English learner, but I don't know why.

  • 1
    As you are an English learner, you should be posting to SE English Language Learners. – David Nov 23 '18 at 23:03
  • Further to @David's comment, the link is English Language Learners. An excellent site for fluent speakers as well! :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Nov 24 '18 at 2:10
  • Great! Didn't know about it. – Ian Rodrigues Nov 24 '18 at 10:32
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In your question, 'to' is not a preposition - it is part of the infinitive 'to eat'. You couldn't even if you wanted to eat, I bet. Because your example is in response to someone else's statement, 'eat' is already implied, so it is dropped and we are left with just 'to'. Compare this omission to your omission of 'you': You couldn't becomes Couldn't because 'you' is implied.
To answer the question, there are multiple correct options. wanted without 'to' is ok, but it's less specific. Both wanted and wanted to are correct, as are wanted to eat and wanted to eat a lot, but although the latter two are acceptable, they are tautology, so you wouldn't find them in a conversation.

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  • I wouldn't guess the implied verb is 'to eat.' It may as easily be 'to avoid eating a lot'. To reflect the ambiguity, the answer might use 'to do' instead: 'you couldn't do it even if you wanted to do it.' – Kay V Nov 27 '18 at 15:24
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No difference in meaning, and one is no more common than the other. If you really wanted to dig through minutiae though, you might argue the 'to' ending the first sentence is extraneous. Forget this distinction as it's profoundly useless.

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    What? There's no difference between saying "He wanted a new bike for Christmas" and "He wanted to a new bike for Christmas"? – Hot Licks Nov 23 '18 at 21:25
  • @HotLicks have ever had a dream where you wanted to ?? youtube.com/watch?v=G7RgN9ijwE4 :D – Carly Nov 23 '18 at 21:28
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    @HotLicks There’s little to no difference in meaning/intent between the OP’s examples. – Lawrence Nov 23 '18 at 23:17
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    I disagree that the “even if he wanted to” version is less grammatically sound than the version without the word to. – Lawrence Nov 23 '18 at 23:19
  • @Chappo etc. - eh, sure - grammatically incorrect overstates the point. How do you feel about 'extraneous'? As such, would you agree most editors would strike it unless it had a stylistic justification? Answer modified. – Kay V Nov 24 '18 at 22:37
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The first example is grammatically correct because B-sentence is elliptical, and it can be reconstructed as 'Couldn't do it even if you you wanted to EAT, I bet!' In the second example B-sentence is reconstructed as 'Couldn't do it even if you you wanted EAT, I bet!', which is grammatically wrong.

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